Panel Paper: How Does Power Matter for the Collaborative Network to Buffer Against External Turbulence?

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Lobby Level, Director's Row I (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ruowen Shen, Wichita State University

Cross-sector collaboration has become an innovative institutional development as governments are called upon to partner with organizations across sectors and civil society in order to address public problems that they cannot successfully address alone. Within the collaboration literature, there is still a lack of attention on the structure of collaboration, in part because researchers have emphasized collaboration as a process rather than an “organization”.

In this study, I regard the cross sector collaboration as a network. From an open system perspective, network structure is influenced by external turbulence. External turbulence makes collaborative relationship unstable and increases collaboration risks. Organizations in the network implement buffering strategy to protect, insulate, or mitigate impacts from the external environment turbulence. The development of inter-organizational relationship can be a means of buffering, which makes a dynamic of network configuration to adapt to the environment.

Power has been used to by scholars to describe as intermediate factor to determine network structure (Cook 1997; Choi et al 2007; Burt 2004 & 2005; Brass and Burkhardt 1993). Power imbalance could affect actor’s incentive to collaborate and make relationship unstable. Based upon power theories, this study hypothesizes that organizations strategically develop collaborative relationships to balance power differences and make the relationship stable. Therefore, this study is going to examine how actors buffer the negative impact from external turbulence through adjusting power imbalance in order to stabilize the collaborative relationship and ensure the credible commitment.

This study focuses on the cross-sector collaborative network during the 2008 economic recession. The network is composed of government entity, private sector, and non-profit organizations in Des Moines metro area in Iowa state. The purpose of collaborative network is to deliver public service on sustainability infrastructure. State of Iowa allows "state and local governments in Iowa to make efficient use of their powers by enabling them to provide joint services and facilities with other agencies and to cooperate in other ways of mutual advantage" (Iowa Code, Chapter 28E, Section 1). Iowa law requires that all interlocal and intersector agreements be filed with the state government before it can be entered into force (Chapter 28E, Section 8). Further, the state code requires that all agreements specify its duration, purpose, methods to be employed for partial or complete termination, and the composition and nature of the organizations created by an agreement if such an entity is being formed.

I generated network data for interlocal agreements in the state of Iowa by using custom-made web scraping scripts, we extracted agreement data from 1993-2018 from the Secretary of State website. Since I want to investigate how economic recession affect network configuration, we specifically focus on the period of 2007-2012. TERGM network analysis is conducted. Preliminary results shows that actors achieve power balance by power sharing mechanism through forming closed clusters. On the contrary, actors are less likely to take risk to reach out centralized powerful actor. At the same time, powerful actors are more likely to collaborate with similarly powerful actors in terms of institutional position and structural position.